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Damaging 'nuisance' flooding may soon be common for Tampa Bay, report says

2020 saw a record number of high-tide flood days, and scientists expect that trend to accelerate.
Credit: AP
A jogger makes his way along Bayshore Blvd., in Tampa, Fla. as a wave breaks over a seawall, during the aftermath of Tropical Storm Elsa Wednesday, July 7, 2021. The Tampa Bay area was spared major damage as Elsa stayed off shore as it passed by. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says, in 2020, coastal communities across the country saw record-setting high tide flooding, including cities around Tampa Bay. And, without improvements to flood defenses, NOAA says we may see more days with flooded shorelines and roads.

High-tide flooding is when tides reach between 1.75 to 2 feet above the average high-tide level and spill onto streets, inundating storm drains.

NOAA's report said coastal communities last year saw twice as many high-tide flooding days than they did 20 years ago. In fact, communities across the Eastern Gulf saw a 600 percent increase in high tide flooding. 

Many of those areas of concern were in Texas and Florida, NOAA says. Parts of the state that typically saw 0 to 2 days of high-tide flooding 20 years ago saw 10 to 20 days in 2020. Clearwater and St. Petersburg were the two Tampa Bay area cities mentioned in the report. 

In 2000, both cities typically had just one day of high tide flooding. Last year, St. Petersburg saw two days and Clearwater three days. Those numbers are expected to double this year. 

“NOAA’s tide gauges show that 80% of locations where we collect data along the Southeast Atlantic and Gulf coast are seeing an acceleration in the number of flood days,” said Nicole LeBoeuf, director of NOAA’s National Ocean Service. “High-tide flooding disrupts people’s lives when they can’t get to and from work or have to repeatedly deal with a flooded basement."

Scientists are expecting the trend to only accelerate in the coming years. By 2050, Clearwater may see anywhere between 10 to 55 days of high-tide flooding, and St. Petersburg might have between 15 to 85 days. 

"As sea level rise continues, damaging floods that decades ago happened only during a storm now happen more regularly, such as during a full-moon tide or with a change in prevailing winds or currents," NOAA says. 

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